Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care Corporation (SICHCC) began in a wing of a local United Methodist Church. Its founding spawned by Rural Missions, Inc.’s Health Council, was determined to provide health care services to a predominantly rural minority population. SICHCC represented one of the first community initiatives to respond to the medical and human services need of local residents of the Sea Islands.
The areas principally served by SICHCC are the five sea islands west of the city of Charleston: Edisto, James, Johns, Wadmalaw and Yonges Islands. Each of these islands can be characterized as having sparse resources and geographically dispersed populations. Historically, most of the city, county and state social and human services agencies, as well as medical facilities – and available to low to moderate income housing – are physically located within Charleston proper, making accessibility for island residents difficult. Transportation also has historically been the most formidable obstacle faced by our residents in accessing both medical and social services. Travel times varies, due to the expanse of shoreline area, but it was not uncommon for a resident of the area to travel more than one hour using secondary roads to complete a one way trip for medical care or to obtain available social services. A trip to downtown Charleston to a physician’s office, additional medical tests, and then to a pharmacy can be an all day task. Establishing and coordinating services in our area – rather than transporting all clients into the city – remains a principal goal in our efforts to provide comprehensive services to the residents of our service area.
In 1972, SICHCC was chartered as a private, non-profit corporation in South Carolina and was granted tax exemption under Section 501 C (3) of the Internal Revenue Codes. The purpose of the organization was to establish, develop and manage a proposed system of health care for the rural end of western Charleston County. With this mandate, land was soon acquired on Yonges Island, and SICHCC’s first permanent community health center was built. The results of this accomplishment were health care with dignity, jobs and training for what was and still is a vigorous growing sector of our economy.
In 1974, strapped by then existing federal laws that prohibited federally funded community health centers’ involvement in economic development, SICHCC established the Sea Island Community Development Funds, Inc. (SICDF) as a companion 501 C (3). The purpose of this entity was to engage in economic development, lend fundraising support and serve as an investment vehicle in accomplishing those things expressly forbidden as activities of a federally funded community health center (CHC.) Soon after its creation, SICDF purchased 4.1 acres and later 8 acres of land, which made possible the building of an 88-unit complex and construction of a sewer treatment plant. This infra-structure development was the catalyst for an ambitious building program that continues – even today.
In 1977, Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care Corporation organized a certified Home Health Agency, providing skilled nursing care, physical and speech therapy, medical social services and home health aide care. At the same time, the Johns Island Health Center, Sea Island Laboratory and Pharmacy were also established.
In 1979 SICHCC established five congregate nutrition sites, a home delivered meal program and transportation service for residents sixty years of age and older, utilizing Title III funds under the Older Americans Act of the Social Security Laws. A computerized client information system was subsequently put into place to begin tracking these clients. Expansion of this system has allowed the inclusion of Home Health Clients and Rural Housing Residents. In 1994 (through a generous grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation), a nutrition site was re-established in the Yonges Island area, bringing our total number of sites again to five.
1980 marked the year of completion of many of our permanent facilities on Johns Island. Among them was the Johns Island Rural Housing Complex for elderly and handicapped individuals. This complex was developed by SICHCC’s companion 501 C (3) corporation, Sea Island Community Development Funds, through a Section 202/8 loan from the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). SICHCC also completed its Johns Island Campus (through loans from the U. S. Department of Agriculture or FmHA) consisting of Hermina Traeye Nursing Home, an 88-bed certified, skilled and intermediate nursing facility. Additionally, SICHCC completed its 12,000 square feet clinic facility and a separate 4,500 square feet laboratory and pharmacy building. Not since 1972, the year of completion of the Esau Jenkins facility on Yonges Island was there such hope and exuberance for SICHCC’s future in relieving the economic plight of our indigenous population.
This newly invigorated economic engine was just the antidote to provide desperately needed health and human services, while at the same time providing social and economic dignity through the provision of State and Federally certified fee(s) for service(s) and cost based reimbursable service(s).
However, this exuberance was short lived. To the consternation of many, this success story was not to be, and soon thereafter allegations were abound; so much so that one year later (1981) amid charges and counter charges made by both major political parties, control of the federal grant for the community health center component of SICHCC was relinquished. Through political negotiating much needed primary health care services would continue to be delivered to the most vulnerable of our population. Thereafter, for more than a decade, the corporation closed ranks and focused on the enhancement of the remaining services which were not subject to the whims of local politics.
In 1994, a grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation enabled SICHCC to open a Community Services Division in the Yonges Island area. This division serves in a capacity of advocacy and outreach to all residents of our area. Additionally, this funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation also helped to establish a branch office of the Sea Island Home Health Agency. That year SICHCC also assumed operation of three child development centers that were being operated by the South Carolina Department of Social Services in the Yonges and Edisto Islands areas. After successfully assuming operation of these centers, a site was purchased in the Town of Hollywood and a new 5,000+ square feet early childhood development center was under construction with a scheduled completion in October of 1997.
1994 proved to be accomplishment driven and many successes were achieved. In addition to the above mentioned, SICHCC, was awarded a grant from the Bureau of Primary Health Care to perform needs assessment for delivery of primary health care services to the citizens of western Charleston County and Colleton County. SICHCC was also one of twenty (20) recipients of the 1994 “Best Practice Award” given in Washington, D. C. as a result of being selected from among thousands of similar projects nationally. 1994 was also highlighted by the awarding to SICHCC of the Sisters of Orange County California St. Joseph Health System’s Intensive Care for our Neighbor (ICON) Award. The nomination was anonymous and the cash award was for $82,500.00.
In June 1995, SICHCC received funding from the Bureau of Primary Health Care to initiate primary health care services in Colleton County and began seeing patients in a medical van, while proceeding with renovations of a recently purchased permanent facility. Acute needs in the community quickly prompted the need for expanded facilities and a temporary site was located within the service area. Completion of renovations of the permanent facility was anticipated for October 1997. Construction of a 44-bed wing was also completed in 1995 at the Hermina Traeye Nursing Home, giving it a total bed complement of 132. Also in 1995, we assumed operation of four child development centers in Colleton County previously operated by the South Carolina Department of Social Services. These sites served Walterboro, Neyles, Jonesville and Cottageville.
Population growth in Charleston County has brought about limited development in our area. Road systems have improved and traffic has increased and resort housing starts in our region have grown – severely skewing our demographics. Municipal bus service is provided on a limited basis on a portion of only one of the islands. Effects from Hurricane Hugo still are in evidence in areas where the indigenous population resides. Displacement and doubling up of affected families are still common. Area residents remain needful of the establishment and continuation of medical and human services centrally located in the western end of Charleston County.
SICHCC’s mission has been to initiate and to coordinate quality medical and human services for our residents. Concern has arisen over those who live in this area, but who receive no services, or fragmented services from multiple service providers in the city of Charleston. Because many of the island residents must deal not only with chronic health problems but also with difficulties inherent in a lifestyle maintained at income levels at or below poverty levels, medical and human services are often unknown. To say nothing of the fact that many residents of our area have no financial means of achieving home ownership or accomplishing necessary maintenance on dwellings they may occupy.
Community grassroots efforts, such as SICHCC, by necessity structure a system encompassing the concept of “we can take care of our own.” Historically, that concept has served this region well. A centrally coordinated system of medical and human services ensures availability of service to residents. The unique culture, physical isolation, and sense of independence prevalent in this area make accessing outside health care and human services difficult. Feelings of distrust of “outsiders” by clients can be fostered by agencies and staff based out of this service area, with an emphasis on urban rather than rural service delivery. Exacerbating this atmosphere is the lack of adequate transportation that makes physically accessing services so difficult.
Thus, this model of service provision by SICHCC of health and ancillary care to local residents allows for the integration of service delivery within our medical and human services management system. Area residents are able to look to one source for medical and ancillary services. With so many barriers that prevent the client from procuring aid, it is a logical approach to try management of all services by our provider network.
It remains Sea Island Comprehensive Health Care Corporation’s mission to ensure that our area residents are afforded accessible and appropriate medical care and human services. Our service delivery has been based upon a system of client accommodation – planning and initiating services dependent upon area need, meeting the multiple needs of individual clients, ensuring client satisfaction by a community involved in its service delivery.